Is it Time to End Age-Apartheid in Housing?
"When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw." - Nelson Mandela, crusading against the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Ironically, it was title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act) that prohibited age discrimination in housing. Later, a 1988 amendment to the Act created an exemption for housing for adults aged 55 and over, just as long as it provided facilities and services designed to meet the physical and social needs of the elderly. These two pieces of legislation eventually legitimized retirement communities to be age segregated.
And while well-intentioned and genuinely much needed in curbing unwanted discrimination, there are now a growing number of modern elders who are feeling like outlaws—rebelling against an opting-in form of community segregation. As one of my college friends said to me recently, “You’ll only find me in a retirement community over my dead body.” Hopefully, we don’t have to die or become an outlaw to opt-into age integration.
With this background, it’s interesting to see that the topic of intergenerational living is starting to create awareness in the zeitgeist, as evidenced by this New York Times article. As our modern definition of family continues to morph, it’s time we learned from the co-housing movement and started to highlight some role models of co-generational communities. While the elites may be starting to wake up to this trend, a recent survey by Generations United found that multigenerational living has nearly quadrupled in the past decade. This is particularly true in communities of color, where the majority of the time (according to this survey), this growth has been due to economic hardships.
So, while we may be moving back to the future in terms of extended families living together, it’s also encouraging to read about these entrepreneurs—of all ages—creating new kinds of age-diverse communities, which might be one means of solving our national caregiver shortage, one that is likely to get worse in the next couple decades. Some of these new communities have similarities to MEA’s Regenerative Communities in that they are centered around the earth, typically a farm.
As one of the entrepreneurs in the NY Times article frames it: “We did dozens and dozens of interviews with folks 60 and over, and everybody was approaching this next life stage with such excitement and optimism. And it felt like, why isn’t someone trying to bottle that energy and create something that celebrates this part of life?”
It’s a good question.